SIDNEY – A riding lawn mower isn’t necessarily the recommended mode of transportation on Highway 30 in the southern Nebraska Panhandle.  

With vans, pickups and semi-tractor-trailers zipping by, a pair of radio stations drove a premium Walker mower down the road until it ran out of gas on Wednesday.  

The reason? To give the $7,500 mower to one lucky winner.  

987 The Big Boy and Cheyenne County Country announced on May 27 they would be giving away the mower with Panhandle Auto Group, Lazy S Ranch and Sutton Home Gallery during their 2nd Annual Off the Rails Sweepstakes. 

Listeners were encouraged to submit their guess on how far the 42-inch riding lawn mower would go on one tank of gas. The closest guess to the nearest tenth of a mile would win the mower. Registrations closed on Aug. 31. 

Wednesday’s ride began at 10 a.m. the new Panhandle Auto Group location in Kimball when radio station staff filled the mower with gas one last time before heading east on Highway 30.   

A convoy that included the mower, two Panhandle Auto Group pickups and a pair of Nebraska State Patrol cars began the trek across Kimball and Cheyenne Counties in 100-degree heat under sunny skies.  

Station Manager Hunter Arterburn drove the mower in a cowboy hat, boots and overalls. He says despite averaging only traveling at six miles per hour, the experience of slowing down and enjoying the area makes this one of his favorite giveaways. 

“We had an awesome time going down Highway 30 today,” Arterburn said. “We finished just right around 3 p.m., so it ended up being about five hours, which is exactly what we were expecting.” 

The mower ride included stops along the way, including the Potter Sundry and Potter-Dix Elementary School in Dix.  

Third Grade Teacher Jessica Pellster and Art Teacher Beth Bogart said the kids were excited to see Arterburn stop by on his mower.  

“We have so many students who love to listen to him on the way to school, so this was the least we could do to show school pride and show Hunter show much we love him and enjoy listening to him every morning,” Pellster said. 

Students held signs and photos of Hunter’s head to welcome him to their school. 

“Yesterday, Jess had the crazy idea that we needed to have some signs, so we brain stormed,” Bogart said. “The 6th grade helped me put some signs together. We did it really quickly, but we wanted to show Hunter our support.” 

The two teachers said they were keeping up with the mower ride by watching on The Big Boy’s Facebook page and listening to reports on the radio. 

According to Arterburn, seeing the students with their signs and photos when they pulled up to the school was his favorite part of the ride. He says that was very special to him.  

He was also thankful for the Nebraska State Patrol being a part of the convoy and keeping them safe on the state highway.  

State Trooper Art Frerichs said driving slow for five hours is not his typical workday. 

“Not bad, but it was hot,” Frerichs said. “It was slow going at seven miles per hour, but everything was safe. Nobody got hit, so it was a good day.” 

2,542 registrations were submitted throughout the summer at several businesses in Sidney, Kimball, Potter, Bridgeport, Sterling and Chappell. Eight of the registrations had the correct amount of miles. 

“We ended up going 23.9 miles, which is .8 miles more than last year,” Arterburn said. 

A tiebreaker will be held at Panhandle Auto Group in Sidney on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 5 p.m.  

The finalists - Cory Michelman, Jeanne Ogden, Wendy Burgman, Caleb Nash, Tim Keller, Alisa Mueller, Geoff Toler and Amanda Popp – will compete in an obstacle course on the riding lawn mower. The quickest time through the course wins the mower. The other seven people will receive a consolation prize.  

The public is invited and encouraged to attend.